On Sept. 12, 2020, my girlfriend and I drove downtown to our favorite dessert shop in Sacramento, Calif., Ginger Elizabeth’s Chocolates, picking up a pair of stupidly indulgent and ridiculously-priced ice cream pints. They’re a pain in the ass to get. The shop runs different and unique flavors each week, and they typically sell out in two-to-five minutes online … But damn, are they worth it.
We successfully returned home with our bounty. No more than two hours later, my manager called me and offered a fight at 125 pounds just 14 days away in St. Petersburg, Florida. I watched the potential opponent’s two most recent wins, a pair of first-round knockout victories, the most recent over a The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) / “Contender Series” veteran.
I accepted right away.
Several hours later, I got a second call from my manager while halfway through my 90-minute aerobic bike ride. It went something along the lines of, “I just found out it’s a title fight, so five rounds. You would be the main event. Also, they won’t pay to fly out a cornerman, but Clay Guida lives out there, so he can corner you. Do you still want it?” In fact, I do want a professional title, so I accept again. I did end up flying my brother-in-arms and former MMAmania.com video co-host Andrew “Bulldog” Coyne out with me as a second corner. The money raised by the banner so many of you kindly donated to me allowed me to do so without taking a significant financial “L” in the process, so there’s a real life example of that generosity in use.
There’s a lot of misconceptions about how fight camps, fighter conditioning, and peaking works; the difference between being in shape all the time (I am) vs. properly preparing your body to fight on a specific date (which ideally requires at least six weeks) is significant. This post is no dissertation on such topics, and I’m not an exercise scientist anyway, so I texted my strength and conditioning coach Amadeo Novella and explained the situation: I was in really good shape from consistent practice/sparring/bike rides, light at 140 pounds, and had been hoping for a short-notice fight. Now that I had one — and five rounds at that — I needed to know what anaerobic conditioning and recovery workouts to do in the next eight days or so to prepare for five rounds and peak as much as possible.
Amadeo sent me the plan, and I immediately cut all nonsense out of my diet. In the weeks previous, I had mastered my diet to the point that I was able to lose 10 pounds in the last six weeks while still snacking on one of those tasty pints each week — it’s important to enjoy life a bit, otherwise why bother? Those times were passed though, and it was time to cut calories. Otherwise, I shifted my focus a bit from general team practices to more one-on-one sessions with my boxing coach Joey Rodriguez and close teammates, focusing on the techniques and strategies I planned to implement in the fight. I did a lot of work with Allan Begosso, the undefeated Brazilian Bantamweight who throws major bombs with both hands and just scored a serious knockout at LFA.
A few days later, it’s fight week, and the focus is on the weight cut. I entered that Monday at 135 pounds, flew to Tampa, Fla., Thursday morning, and slimmed further down to 130 pounds by Friday morning over the course of the week by water loading and cutting salt/carbs. The weigh-ins were Friday night rather than early morning, so I did two separate salt baths and towel wraps at roughly 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Friday to shed the extra pounds.
The second salt bath — my first time using this method rather than sauna (still unsure of how I feel about it) — was pretty un-fun, but on the whole, the weight cut went smoothly. Bulldog and Clay were with me every step of the way to provide a welcome distraction from the suffering (and keep heating up the tub). Clay and I discussed the finer points of Lee Hazlewood and Marty Robbins as I was engulfed by towels. I watched Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and Netflix’s Sugar Rush constantly. The only issue of note was the scale: Clay brought a floor scale, but the bathroom floor at our hotel was hilariously uneven. I would check five times and get nearly a pound of variance depending on the location.
The commission didn’t bring the official scale until the real go time, so I had to be certain I was under championship weight. Making weight on one scale and then failing on the official is a situation so upsetting I don’t even want to visualize it.
As a result, I weighed in at 124.2 pounds — champ weight on two week’s notice! People think I’m a huge Flyweight because I’m tall (by Team Alpha Male standards) and have wide shoulders, but I’m actually just naturally lean. And yes, I understand that keeping the mask on while shaking hands is a dumb contradiction, but frankly, I felt like wearing my mask would be a cool way to separate this weigh-in from the rest.
Not everyone is getting to fight in the age of Covid-19, so I might as well embrace the strange.
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“Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all.” - Cormac McCarthy 124.2 CHAMP weight baby!
Naturally, refueling after weigh-ins was amazing. We went to an Italian spot nearby that was fantastic, and I got one of those crazy, Instagram-worthy dishes where the chef cooks the pasta in a giant wheel of cheese. Though his excellence was consistent throughout the weekend, I also have to use this as an opportunity to highlight Mr. Guida: what a f*cking guy.
Bulldog is my brother, and I love him, but I also flew him out specifically to not leave my side and handle my every stupid need (I’ve done and will do again the same for him). Clay, who I’ve trained with many times over the years and have always gotten along great with, is a real adult with a family and businesses and sh*t going on who just happens to live a couple hours away. I didn’t expect him to sacrifice his whole weekend and stay at my hotel for two nights or hang out with us and my family constantly, eternally happy to help however possible. Total humility, knowledge and generosity from “The Dude,” who went above and beyond.
Guida lives his life at a pace similar to his fights. He’d dip out on a whim, go on a run, ride his skateboard all over town, put me on Face Time calls with his local fisher buddies — shoutout Captain Bo Johnson of @FishTenacity! — toss some lures himself, and still be around constantly. At dinner, he told us some great stories from the OG days of Jackson-Wink, and I showed him a throwback of the first time I met him, which was not at Team Alpha Male, but at a UFC weigh-in as a fan in 2012.
Saturday morning, I had the best shakeout of my career. We walked to the beach, warmed up in the sun briefly, then lightly drilled and touch sparred. Typically, I feel like garbage during shakeout. My body has been through a lot in the last week, and that’s why you do it, to get a light sweat and remind your muscles of their job. For once, I felt sharp and strong right away.
- UFC Atlantic City in 2012!
- Shakeouts done!
- The cheesy cavatelli that was promised
- We went to a biscuits place for breakfast Saturday morning. The best decision I made in Florida: buying six cinnamon biscuits for post-fight snacking. I didn’t get to eat them while living it up as planned, but they were a life-saver while starving at the hospital and airport
As main event, I spent 7.5 hours backstage before getting to fight. I slept for a little bit, re-read a couple chapters of The Stand (appropriate, right?) on my service-less phone, and mostly watched the other fights being streamed to the locker room. Credit to Global Legion, because they run a very smooth show. They also treated the fighters really well, which is not an easy task nor one most promotions even bother trying to accomplish.
But still, a long time backstage could not be avoided.
Similar to the shakeout, I’ve never felt so good in the locker room leading up to a fight. By fight three, I was mentally ready to fight, though I was still seven bouts and several hours away. After some light drills, I basically sparred with Bulldog for short bursts every few minutes to keep warm. I think, however, one of my mistakes in this bout was mental. I was hyper-focused on winning this fight and getting that belt, more determined and aggressive than ever before — contrary to my typically reserved and calm nature. As a result, I believe some of my sharpest work was thrown in the direction of Mr. Bulldog.
I timed it all a bit wrong for sure, feeling more flat at the start of the actual fight. Still, I was absolutely ready to fight. This is less me trying to excuse anything and more my own self-theorizing and attempt to optimize my next lead up to a fight. Regardless, I walked out to perhaps the most famous strut song in history, The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” — a fun one while still quite dark.
The full fight video can be purchased HERE!
My opponent was quick early, and he did a nice job of moving laterally to avoid my attempts to establish the jab and low kick. When he attacked, he did so in quick bursts. I took his back roughly 90 seconds into the fight. After slipping on a kick, I rolled up onto a leg entanglement and used it to sweep into top position, taking the back in the ensuing scramble — one of my better sequences on the night. This, unfortunately, is where things will begin to get controversial.
I’ll just say it bluntly: the guy did a lot of illegal sh*t. As I fought to get under the chin and/or trap the arm, his fingers were inside my gloves often. The referee yelled at him several times for toes hooking the fence, and that cost him a point. On the reset, he head-butted me before the clock restarted … and this was all in the first round.
Whatever, it’s a fight. I don’t care that much about the rules, either. But, the referee does, so at least try to be sneaky about it.
I managed to pop my knee (old injury) a little bit while holding the body triangle, which ultimately didn’t affect anything, but it hurt! To start the second round, my legs were pretty juiced from all that squeezing, and I was not feeling super quick or agile on my feet. He fought hard, swinging big punches and catching me clean with a left hook. I got behind my shoulder and did my best to slip and roll, but I definitely ate some real shots. Feeling slow, I accepted the brawl at points and just tried to land back. A sh*tty takedown attempt saw me hit my back, where I got socked up heavy. But, I felt my legs start to regain strength.
Simply put, it was a bad couple minutes for your boy. Most of the damage I took came in this portion of the second round. Nevertheless, I managed to get up and score a takedown with 90 seconds remaining, fighting off a tight guillotine to do so. Let me tell ya, guillotines suck more when they’re juicing your open face like an orange. To avoid an unrequested nap, I switched my hips from within the guard and kept him on his wrong hip, buying myself enough Oxygen to wait out his arms.
I didn’t win the round at all, but I at least evened things back up a touch momentum-wise by putting my forehead into his jaw and punching him in the face a good bit after the disastrous start. I landed a couple good elbows too, which is a first after three previous pro fights!
In the third, my new game plan was set. I was done trying to be slick, because my reactions were not on point. I wasn’t going to back away, because that’s when his best shots landed. So, I walked forward and made sure that if I got hit, I at least stuck a jab in his nose. I may look like a pretty boy jiu-jitsu nerd, but I’ll win on grit alone if need be. We were both landing (him better than I still), but he grabbed the cage again, this time in the clinch. Immediately after the referee called stop — and subsequently took a second point — he blasted me with a knee, which had my nose hosing blood all over my body.
That one irritated me a bit, particularly given the previous drama. I did my best to earn revenge though, because this time when I took him down, my forehead in his jaw meant that all my nose blood was spilling into his face. My cardio felt strong, and I had time to work. I chipped away until he went to stand, then I took the back a second time. The whole ground exchange, I felt in control, angling the fight in the direction I wanted.
Moments later, the fight was done, though not by my doing. Just as I got the arm under the chin for the first time — though still several steps away from a completed choke — the referee disqualified him for rooting around in the fence with his feet yet again.
I won the title.
I have a lot of feelings and thoughts on the situation. It wasn’t my decision for the referee to DQ him, and I get why he’d be upset about it. I also didn’t decide to break half the rules. And, despite my ground beef-esque face, I spent probably eight minutes out of 13 in top position. I won the first, was winning the third, and he had already lost two points. I didn’t get “saved” from anything, my guy, I was in a dominant position. My dominant position.
I tried really hard to be cool and friendly with my opponent after the fight. Too hard, probably. It wasn’t worth the effort. He blew off my hand shake, reconciled backstage, then talked sh*t on Instagram afterward using the picture we took together and screenshots of my story. I don’t want to focus any more on this, however, because I find it boring, and there’s almost no way for me to describe the situation without sounding like a jackass.
Such is life. My belt is in Sacramento; that’s why I flew to Florida. I went to the hospital post-fight (no significant injuries nor a concussion, just swelling) then straight to the airport. Outside of trying to nap backstage, I got my first sleep in roughly 24 hours on the airport floor.
Chaos and controversy aside, there’s a ton for me to learn here. First and foremost, I need to improve my defense against aggressive, wide swings. I’ve known this and promise I’ve been actively working on it. It is frustrating — I spar hard with such excellent fighters each week and rarely get touched clean. However, those rounds are more of a technical kickboxing match between two fighters trying to set strikes up and trick one another with feints and traps.
When it’s a real scrap with big lunges, my defensive reactions aren’t there yet. It’s not a discomfort or fear of punches — watch the fight, clearly I love getting punched in the face. And while this may sound like an attempt to downplay my opponent’s skills like a sourpuss, truly, that isn’t my intent: he had both the tricks and instincts of an experienced puncher.
I need to be ready for that.
I’m happy to say I fought a real tough guy, one who brought smart strategy and good defensive grappling reactions to the cage. His overall record may not have been stellar, but he was 3-1 in his last four with stoppage wins over really solid guys. He had five times my professional experience and has been a pro since 2012 (when I was a high school sophomore taking pictures with UFC fighters at weigh-ins). I went to a hostile venue on two week’s notice, and I won. When the fight went sideways, I stayed composed and fought back into it. My eyes swelling and nose bursting didn’t affect me mentally or put me off the goal of victory.
You never want to prove your toughness. I don’t have an interest in winning wars of attrition. But, I’m a genuine fighter. I’ve lived the full-time MMA life at a top-tier team for six years now. Every month, every week, every day — I went from dorky new kid to old face who assists with coaching up-and-comers by 24 years of age, and I did it via consistent hard work.
On a final note: I just have so much gratitude. My friends, my family, and my team have all been supportive beyond belief. The MMAmania community especially has been incredible to me. In just two weeks, so many of y’all sent me fight camp donations, really friendly messages, music recommendations, and simple wishes of good luck. It was constant support.
As for who actually won the raffle: THORAZINE! The long-time MMAmaniac won the random picker out of more than 80 names, but he opted to instead pass it along to another longtime supporter in Taiter ... who chose to donate it to the family of TomSelleck23, the maniac who sadly passed away in August.
Unfortunately, the banner design production ran into a delay. It’s coming in the next couple days, but I didn’t want to hold off posting any further. I’ll update ASAP both here and on Midnight Mania, but until then, here’s the previous banner for context.
On the note of the banner, Colour Printing goes above and beyond in making these things awesome and a worthy prize. Please check them out for printing services, as well as their associated page LoudSigns.Us for any lawn advertising needs.
Thanks to all for reading, and much love until next time.